Over the past semester, I decided to pursue a degree in economics. Economics is an okay major—fairly entertaining—but I don’t absolutely love it. Truthfully, if I didn’t have to think long-term, I would want to be an architect. Like most people, however, I do think about my future; and during the five months I entertained the idea of becoming an architect, the mere fact that architecture is the number one unemployed occupation in America never stopped harassing me.
If anyone were to ask me why I am majoring in economics, I would not be able to respond with an expressed, loving interest for the field. I might say I enjoy it, and to a certain extent, I would be telling the truth—but only to a small extent. What comes out of my mouth would be completely different from what I would be thinking: economics equals money.
The rationality behind my decision to be an economics major is not unique to me. Nearly half of Yale’s undergraduate students are pursuing a degree in economics. Chances are: not all of them share an absolute love for the field and a good portion of them are simply pursuing it for the same reasons I am. In fact, my roommate and his friend both confessed that they’d much rather be art majors, but are choosing to stick with economics under the pretense that it would provide improved life circumstances—which translates into, “because we want to make money.”
This is bothersome. Especially because there is a good amount of truth in the old adage, “Money cannot buy happiness.” If many of the students at Yale are pursuing certain degrees primarily to establish a solid financial ground, that means that many of these students have their mind focused on the circumstantial factors of life, for instance occupational status, job security, income, and etc. However, as Sonia Lyubomirsky explains in “Pursuing Happiness,” “all circumstances combined account for only 8% to 15% of the variance in happiness levels” (Lyubomirsky 117). According to Lyubomirsky, circumstances can provide short-term euphoria, but due to humans’ ability to adapt, that happiness doesn’t last forever. Thus, we are all forced to return to our genetically-determined, happiness set-point. This is why a lottery winner may be happy for the several months that follow, but not permanently happier.
So if circumstantial improvements won’t bring happiness, what will? Lyubomirsky argues that “intentional activities offer the best potential route to higher and sustainable levels of happiness” (Lyubomirsky 115). People can engage in behavioral, cognitive, and volitional activities. Volitional activities—which seem to be more common at Yale—include the pursuit of personal goals (i.e. a student working towards an academically-good semester). Lyubomirsky adds that people can maintain the happiness derived from these intentional activities. For instance, a student can maintain his/her happiness by consistently doing well each semester. This, however, poses a new problem. Lyubomirsky explains, “Hedonic adaptation undoubtedly constrains the happiness-inducing effects of intentional activities, just as it does for circumstances” (Lyubomirsky 120). Jonathon Haidt of The Happiness Hypothesis elaborates on this idea. He states that as people consistently return to their set happiness, they find themselves in an endless pursuit of happiness, a cycle referred to as the “hedonic treadmill.”
So how do we find happiness in a success-driven world where good circumstances seem to carry so much weight? More importantly, how do we find happiness in a school like Yale where success and the strive to improve life-circumstances are integrated into the institution’s roots? Jonathon Haidt addresses the questions articulately: happiness comes from between love and work.
As we make the transition into the world, we need to learn more about ourselves. We need to find what we enjoy and are good at. And when we engage these pleasures and strengths, we’ll be able to find fulfillment. “[We’ll] shift into a more positive, approach-oriented mindset; and in such a mindset it will be easier for [us] to see the bigger picture within which [our] job might turn into a calling” (Haidt 222). Only after we make love and work coincide in a synergistic relationship, can we be happy Yalies on the path to having everything.